Computers Can’t Make Coffee

I know, it’s been a while and not a lot of that time has been spent writing creatively. The books is currently in various bits and pieces having been carved up, chopped out and messed about with. It’s a task and a half putting it all back together. I had to keep something ticking over and I’m now pretty safe in the knowledge that I’m far more comfortable writing strange science fiction than I am doing more ‘domestic’ stuff. With that in mind I decided to just writing something short and stupid to stretch the cells again. It’s rough around the edges but I won’t be spending time going back to it to sharpen it up because it’s supposed to be fun. Here then is ‘Computers Can’t Make Coffee’. Enjoy and leave any comments down below.

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The sound of birdsong filled the streets before the sample ended and it looped round again for another minute long duration.

Desmond was the last person the sun would shine on. The sleep of the last few hours had been interrupted not by any noise from the street outside or the late-night TV his neighbours always watched but more the absence of any human activity. His was the only street left illuminated, two lamps standing until the end. The traffic signals were turned off a few days ago. The shops had left only the moonlight to cast shadow on the empty shelves.

Desmond’s notification had been slow in arriving. Once the idea of leaving Earth had left a touch screen somewhere and the pictures of the settlements had circulated, he had sat waiting. Looking out of his window each morning he saw more and more floors on the housing grids becoming vacant. Every time another light out and wind turbine still. The eldest residents had been first, forming a queue to get into the monorail terminals leading to the ports. Herbert down the corridor had refused to go whilst spending each evening shouting up at the night sky from his balcony. Desmond had ran into him one night outside the local shop. “I was born on Earth and I’ll bloody die on Earth” he growled whilst stabbing his walking stick forwards as if he were fencing. A few weeks ago his wish was granted. They didn’t fill his house afterwards.

Each evening the bright blue jet trails of the rockets had bled through the black. Desmond had grown to be familiar with looking out for the final scattering of colour as the ships left Earth’s atmosphere. The final distant thump of another one entering space above was a comfort to him as one day he’d be up there too. This morning the skies were empty as even the clouds had given up flying overhead. The blazing heat from the sun rays has already melting the tarmac across the road. Desmond could see the bubbles from his window.

“Looks like another warm one”.

The familiar voice chimed in from the screen across the room with the usual tones of cheer.

“Morning Theia” said Desmond still slightly unsure if he should be giving such wishes to a computer programme.

“Do you want a full weather report for the day?” the software enquired.

“Is it going to be you asking me to put lots of sunscreen on and avoid going out in the sun until this evening?”.

A silent few seconds followed as this questions was hurled through processors and memory.

“That would be where I was going”.

“Well in that case I think we can save it”.

The window began to darken automatically, shielding Desmond from the harsh light. A protective protocol in action.

“Your flight leaves in a few hours, your last few bags are waiting at the space port having been checked in at 3:08am this morning”

“Thanks” came the only mutter from Desmond’s mouth as he peered back to the tinted window at the sunlight bouncing off the electronic advertising boards on the building opposite. His own personal adverts had been scrolling on these screens for so long now he could follow along with them word for word. He had cut himself shaving around three weeks ago, the bathroom mirror had recognised the blood and played him an advert for instant Cut Sealer. A whole minute had passed by showing the miraculous properties of a sprayed layer of plastic across any size of wound. After Desond had answered the following survey the mirror had deemed it suitable to dispense a sticking plaster.  A free sample had turned up unannounced through his door not long afterwards but it remained unused. Life away from Earth would surely not need Cut Sealer.

“Is this the end of the world?” asked Desmond of the computer.

“Far from it, it’s a new start for you”.

“But what happens to all of this here?”. Desmond gestured to the outside world in what looked like a half hearted attempt at Semaphore.

“Do you want the answer?”

“I do”.

“Very well then Desmond, the coastal areas that aren’t flooded already soon will be and the heat from the sun rays will take care of most of the rest”.

Desmond considered this information for a few seconds. If he had stayed around on Earth for any longer he would probably try to see if he could convince the computer to stop asking his permission in order to give him plain facts. It had originally started with it suggesting he took an umbrella outside rather than just saying it was raining. Before long it was telling him about the benefits he could have by taking a long walk before actually telling him the trains had been cancelled. Over time the software had learned that Desmond liked the plain facts. It had also learned to not make him coffee in the mornings. When the kitchen appliances had all been registered in the network the software had taken the liberty of ordering in the best selling coffee flavour in the city, taking in a general method of preparation honed through the data received from over one thousand hours of consumer focus groups and only then splotting forth something that Desmond could only describe as tar. The easiest solution would have been to disconnect the network card from the back of the coffee maker but, like all appliances, it refused to work without one.

“I shall heat the water for you” came the robotic chirp.

“Just that, nothing more”.

The water sizzled inside the machine and the jet of black. Desmond slowly added the dark oily gloop and mixed it together.  He took a sip of the bitter concoction then smacked his lips together.

“Are they growing real coffee beans in the orbit?” he asked?

“I’m afraid I don’t know for sure Desmond, my network doesn’t stretch that far”.

Desmond took another sip and thought about the stations in orbit and how, if they truly were meant to be the next step in mankind’s journey, they would surely be a space on each of them for growing some proper coffee. The videos that had been sent back down showed whole forests being grown in large sections of the stations. Spotlights reflected off the water of streams and lakes as animated figures danced and ate picnics on the riverbanks. All was perfectly possible when you were off the surface of the now crumbling Earth. He put down his coffee cup and was about to clean it in the sink until he remembered he wouldn’t need it tomorrow morning.  

“The taxi is waiting outside” said the computer.

Desmond was about to jolt himself across the housing pod in his rush to get changed. Upon processing it further he came to the conclusion that the taxi wasn’t exactly going to pick up anybody else afterwards. He allowed himself the time to put on the last clothes he had that weren’t in space by now.

A few minutes later he found himself adjusting his belt in the mirror.

The computer chimed in for what seemed like the final time.

“I hope you enjoy your flight, it’s been a pleasure being with you these last few years”.

“Do I get something like you when I arrive up there?”.

“I don’t believe they have the structure yet for such systems. Perhaps in time but you’ll have to make your own coffee in the meantime”.

“I think I might be able to manage that”.

Desmond stepped out into the hallway, thought initially about locking the door behind him but instead left the keys hanging in the lock before walking down the corridor.

Hexenwulf The Dreamer

I wrote another book. More aptly I should say I finished it before I got to the end of the last rewrite of the book I’ve been working on for the last four years on this site. Put simply, writing about old wrestling shows became far easier than facing my own story and the many flaws it has. Hence nothing here since August.

I’ve been podcasting, I’ve been miniature painting over on Instagram, I have written reviews on videogames alongside my son and I have been plotting how to write a text adventure game. As the world caved in with a cocktail of COVID and Brexit these things felt like instant wins. Clamouring back to the coal face of aliens from other worlds and Scottish tourist villages felt far too much of an uphill task. It’s a task that must begin again though especially as I’m not that far away from a possible ending.

There’s a chance my head is a bit out of practice with creative writing though so I might go and write something fairly short to get back up to speed. If so it’ll get posted here.

The very best to you and I hope you’re all keeping safe and well.

Remove By Friction

A book seems a really big and all consuming thing right now. Having finished the latest draft a couple of weeks ago during lockdown I’ve touched up a few chapters but not gone back to it since. I’ve taken to doing smaller writing tasks that provide much more of an instant gratification upon completing them. I’ll spent time reviewing a cheap game over on the video game blog my son and I keep. I’ll write some more about wrestling and put that up on Bad Education. I’ve also discovered single player role playing games during the lockdown, one of which is scratching that writing itch just dandy right now. It’s called The Machine by Adira Slattery and Fen Slattery and it’s something of a revelation.

The Machine involves the keeping of a journal detailing how your character makes the titular contraption. It can be anything you want it to be. In my case it’s quite small like a pocket watch and able to sing songs from within. You play the game alone but the idea is that, once your character meets their demise, you pass the journal onto a friend so they carry it on as somebody who has found or been given the same journal. My current character is a discreet magician (I figure he’d have to be in order to keep his tricks under wraps).

You select two options from a list of about sixty jobs and characteristics, crossing them off the lost so nobody else can choose them. Using a deck of playing cards you lift the card on top and the number and suit influences what has happened. For example my first entry proper was the six of diamonds which gave me ‘hateful’ and ‘a sleepless night’. There followed a frantic half hour as I described my character pacing around his elaborate study in the early hours sketching his grand plan for the construction of the machine that would gain himmhis fortune. After those thirty minutes I was done, I could move on, I had achieved something. No long think times, no sitting infront of a blank page and no going back to rewrite. The Machine is part game and part creative writing exercise and if you’re a writer at a loose end or needing something of a writing based distraction then it’s a good $5 to spend.

The book still hangs over me though and it’s something of a problem to work on it knowing that there’s a whole heap more to do before I get that ‘done writing’ hit.

Like A Beer Garden In Motherwell

It turns out there is nothing quite like doing a chapter by chapter breakdown of your book to start a complete emotional rollercoaster. At some points I thought it was all stitching together extremely well, at others there was the feeling that nothing was going right and the whole thing had fell apart.

But at least now I have a list with each chapter and a couple of lines saying what does and doesn’t work with each. Only one of them has the words ‘delete this whole thing because it’s terrible’ written across it so it’s not that bad a score.

The first two chapters have already been rewritten and are actually now in a readable form. It’s just a matter of shining up the rest and making sure they stitch together well.

Pockets Of Resistance

I haven’t vanished to be never seen again. I have done something that feels like that by moving house. We’ve been in the new place for about four weeks now and most of the boxes are away but some remain resolute in the corner of the spare room.

Our old house was on the market since March so the need to find a buyer has been hanging around all that time. I’m very glad to see the back of it.

No sooner did we have something resembling order of things then Christmas had to be prepared for. Writing has been pushed aside for a while. I’ve also yet to pick somewhere in the new place to sit and write. The previous house just had a view of the surrounding homes, this one has a hill at the back where the sun sets.

In the new year we resume.

Fell Down A Hole

It was going fairly well. At one point in the first week of July I was rewriting a chapter each day. Then I got into a complete funk for a few days in which I wasn’t in the mood for anything other than watching Chill With Bob Ross with the lights off. Battling through this book was off the agenda because it felt exactly that, an uphill battle with no guarantee of anything at the end of it. Whatever it was it gnawed a big hole in my confidence.

I bought more notepads the other day. I probably didn’t need anymore but I wanted to write some stuff in my biggest notepad and found some written stuff from around 2009. It was a ten year echo from what felt like another dimension. There were notes about sending emails to people I can no longer recall, scripts that were dead ended long ago and half finished character profiles. I didn’t want to write anything else in that book as it just felt like adding to previous failures. A fresh one has a better outlook.

I’m thinking I might start working on a couple of short stories just to have an outlet that won’t be a massive fifty thousand word mess. It might prove to be a stupid idea in the long term as it’ll take even longer to get the book done but when was I ever in a rush?

The Disheartner

Two years ago around this time of year I ran out of writing steam. The initial excited charge of the book beginning had worn off and the entire project sunk in spectacular fashion. It took four months to get the thing airborne again.

I’m trying to avoid a similar event this time around. Now though my son is off school for the summer so writing during daylight may be difficult. I may have to do what I’ve done this evening and that’s have a very focused two hours once everybody else is in bed. I managed to complete a tricky chapter doing this tonight.

Small charges. Bits of progress.

Calling To The Underworld

Another chapter ripped up and rejigged. The start seemed okay with my police officer taking a short trip down to the beach in the middle of the night to find an evidence of an alien encounter. In the original first draft though he certainly finds that and was physically chased by the thing. Now though it was better to save that for later. He’s a cynic and a disbeliever so any direct contact now will blow any kind of tension apart especially as he’s meeting somebody who claims to have seem strange things going on.

He certainly finds something there below the sand but it won’t be the full show right now.

We’re nearly at the halfway point though and this thing is actually readable in places.

Now War Is Declared And Battle Come Down

I can’t write when I ain’t feeling.

When I’m not writing I can get really down about it. This then spills out into other aspects of my life and a vicious cycle starts. A couple of weeks ago I was stuck in a rut of struggling to write. I’d spend days feeling like a meat machine just carrying out programmes for the same situations everyday and coming home to find myself spending evenings watching a stream of garbage on YouTube simply because it was on the TV. What I really didn’t want was another stretch like this time last year when I spent around four or five months only doing about five thousand words.

This afternoon I found a groove though and it’s a simple thing that seems to have got it going.

This morning I went for a cup of coffee with Kathleen and John, two members of Dumfries based ghost hunting group Mostly Ghostly. Long time readers of this blog may remember my meetings with them a few years ago and attending their Ghost Walks around Dumfries. It had been a long time since I’d last seen them but we managed to get in touch and arrange a day for them to come through to Gretna for a catch up.

It was fantastic. They told me a bit about their future plans (very exciting) and they asked about the book. I gave them the synopsis and they were both interested. It’s a small thing but it felt really good that at least a couple of people were saying they’re interested in the final result. It’s certainly an ego thing but it was the first opportunity I think I’ve had to tell people about the book outside of my day job. That ‘isolated writer’ feeling was blown away for a short while. I got home with a small bit of belief in myself. Small but significant as it turned out.

I’d done the shopping, the dog was being looked after so I didn’t need to walk it, my son hadn’t got home from school. The way was clear to write about a thousand words which, having read them back, have a vibe that feels like me. Some writers make a big noise about ‘finding your own voice’ and whilst I don’t think I’ve got that far I am starting to get phases when I am happy with what I’m putting down on a page. That stuff matters to me and it matters as far as getting this book done. I’m in a much better frame of mind as a result of this afternoon as well.

Today was a good day.

You Can’t Buy Valour From A Vending Machine

I had a few days away, I meant to take my laptop and do some writing whilst I wasn’t home but it didn’t happen. I was staying with the in laws and it may have looked slightly rude if I just put my computer down on the dining table and ignored everybody else whilst I worked away.

As such I’ve only just got underway again tonight and, to my dismay, realised that I had stopped right before a really tough section. It’s the first meeting of the police officer and the Mother of the missing child ten years after the fact. There was a simple note from my read through right after all this that simply says ‘This conversation feels really forced’. In a way it’s supposed to as it’s both characters reacquainting themselves with each other but realising they’re still not seeing eye to eye even after all this time. The entire thing felt really exposition heavy though, as if subliminally I’d taken this opportunity to dump a whole ton of facts down.

Therefore I’ve carved it up and cut it down a lot. She is trying her level best to ignore him and he holds out an incredibly pathetic olive branch that he thinks might just save the situation. It doesn’t and she leaves the scene wondering why exactly the ever thought this town could ever change. In draft one they just seemed to be exchanging pleasantries.

It works better but I’m not quite deleting that note just yet.